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Marketing Through Controversy

Ah, the good old tactic of using controversy to get exposure. The “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” cliché. Though this may be true sometimes, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that.

Lets take a look at the positives and negatives of controversial marketing.

Why Controversy Can Help Your Business

Just look at the exposure that has gotten from the recent “Crispy Frickin’ Chicken Sandwich” controversy. I’ll tell you right now, I had never heard of Sheetz before this. Of course I don’t live in the region where all of its stores are located, but now the whole world knows its name thanks to this controversial ad.
I have to admit that I’m a little surpised that this ad has caused such a stir considering how “controversial” our pop culture and society itself have become, but Sheetz knew exactly what it was doing. Ruffling a few feathers always gets exposure. Exposure, means branding.

Now everyone that lives outside of the Sheetz region, knows what Sheetz is and will remember the name if they visit the region. And everyone in the region that is already familiar with Sheetz will have that Crispy Frickin’ Chicken Sandwich on their mind and just may want to check out the meal that has everyone riled up (I use the term “everyone” very loosely).

Why Controversy Can Hurt Your Business

Now we have to consider just how many people are turned off by this Crispy Frickin’ Chicken Sandwich ad. How many would’ve-been customers has Sheetz lost because of this?

Controversy can’t hurt your business because when you offend people, they want nothing to do with you. I’m guessing Sheetz didn’t think the ad would be offensive to too many people and was willing to alienate a few to bring in more. Shining negative light on your business is generally not something you want to do, but sometimes negativity is in the eye of the beholder, so judgment and risk assessment are things you have to use.

Consider Your Target

If you intend to spark controversy with your marketing, it is important to consider your target audience. Who is most likely to buy the product you are selling? If you can appeal to the target, the controversial campaign is more likely to be successful, but if your target is broad, controversy may not be the best route to go, due to the risk of alienating part of the demographic you are trying to reach. Again, this comes down to risk assessment. Sheetz no doubt considered that a chicken sandwich would appeal to a pretty broad spectrum of people, but felt that the campaign would gain them more customers than it would lose them.

The very topic of controversial marketing is controversial itself. Personal ethics come into play and there will always be disagreement. I’d love to hear your opinions on controversial marketing as well as stories of how controversial marketing has impacted your business. Please share in the comments.

About the Author:
Chris is a content coordinator and staff writer for SmallBusinessNewz and the iEntry Network.

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